21st-century plaques commemorate prehistory, but also our acts of modern conservation and restoration.
11 months ago, for the first time I visited Penycloddiau hillfort – the largest hillfort in Wales – as discussed here. Yesterday, I went back again with my twins and boy and explored the hillfort and its stupendous views of NE Wales and NW England.
This time, we took the main path up the spine of the hill to the summit, situated just inside the northern extent of the hillfort. Previously, we had stopped short of the summit and didn’t see the reconstructed Bronze Age cairn.
After exploring the summit, we then briefly visited the early stages of this year’s University of Liverpool archaeology field school. We watched the students who were very busy opening up the site. We received a very warm welcome from everyone, including a brief chat with the epic Dr Rachel Pope.
This is the project’s 5th field season and it is way too early to report on their discoveries this year. I’m keen to go back in a couple of weeks and see the results of their labours investigating house platforms and the ramparts on the hillfort’s eastern side. They hope to characterise and date the hillfort, which is likely to date back to the Late Bronze Age (early first millennium BC).
Commemorating the Bronze Age
My own recent fieldwork has been investigating the Pillar of Eliseg, where our work on Project Eliseg has conclusively demonstrated that the ninth-century cross was raised over a pre-existing multi-phased kerbed cairn of Bronze Age date.
The reconstructed cairn on top of Penycloddiau was a similar monument: a low stone cairn with a kerb, most likely dating to the middle to late second millennium BC.
On Penycloddiau we encountered modern cairns: way markers for the Offa’s Dyke path and a modern cairn within the Bronze Age monument on the summit. What was striking is that the Pennyclodiau prehistoric cairn is that it is recognised for its Bronze Age origins. This is in stark contrast to the mound beneath the Pillar of Eliseg that remains unrecognised in the heritage interpretation of that Cadw site.
More than being recognised, it has its own plaque between the prehistoric monument and the modern cairn built on the summit. This plaque is both explanation and commemoration: recognising the restoration of the monument in 2010. This is another piece of contemporary archaeology of memory: memorialisation the act of restoration for all walkers to encounter and recognise.
Yet, of course, this displays a parallel to the Pillar of Eliseg. When the fragment of the cross-shaft was raised and set in its original base on top of the mound in the late 18th century, it was reinscribed by Trevor Lloyd. The plaque on Penycloddiau is a 21st-century version of the same practice: commemorating restoration.